The Student Voice of North Allegheny Senior High School

The Uproar

The Student Voice of North Allegheny Senior High School

The Uproar

The Student Voice of North Allegheny Senior High School

The Uproar

Our Virtual Selves

Online avatars have been proven to influence the mentality of users, a phenomenon known as the Proteus Effect.
Image by Ryan Sarapa

In a study from the National Library of Medicine, the effects of incremental gestures such as facial expressions and body language in poker games were examined. The results of the study showed that “the best ‘poker face’ for bluffing may not be a neutral face, but rather a face that contains emotional correlates of trustworthiness.” Despite how little we think about things like incremental gestures in the context of self-expression, their impact becomes much more noticeable in a studied environment. All of this is to say that the details and true impact of self-expression are sometimes elusive and need a closer look to fully understand.

A good starting place to dive deeper into the unnoticed ratifications of expressing oneself is the social side of the internet. With a drastic increase in online interactions through platforms such as video games and social media, the freedom of self-expression has become far more accessible through online means.

This unprecedented expressive freedom has resulted in a psychological phenomenon known as the Proteus Effect. This fascinating and little-known term describes the profound impact that virtual avatars exert on human behavior and self-perception.

Understanding the Proteus Effect reveals how substantially virtual self-expression affects people’s mindsets and self-image. With an increase in the unattainability of beauty standards as a result of things like magazines Photoshopping their models comes a detrimental effect on people’s self-image. According to a UK survey about how comfortable people are with their bodies, “61% of adults and 66% of children feel negative or very negative about their body image most of the time.” Such negativity often results in a strong desire for change or an escape from one’s own body. A perfect place for such an escape is in online worlds.

Video games and social media provide anyone with access to unprecedented customization abilities and options. With further immersion into virtual worlds, and made-up virtual selves comes real-life impact in the form of the Proteus Effect.

The main focus of this effect is how virtual platforms can transform individuals, often subconsciously, as they embody digital avatars within virtual environments. These avatars, ranging from fantastical creatures to lifelike representations, serve as vessels through which users navigate and interact within digital realms.

Remarkably, the characteristics and traits associated with these avatars seamlessly seep into the user’s psyche, shaping their attitudes and behaviors in profound ways.

One of the most striking manifestations of the Proteus Effect is its influence on self-perception and confidence. When individuals inhabit avatars endowed with traits perceived as desirable – be it attractiveness, strength, or intelligence – they often experience a boost in self-esteem and assertiveness.

In a study by Stanford graduate Nick Yee, the influence that the physical appearance of selected virtual avatars has on things like confidence and decision-making was touched on: “I found that participants in attractive avatars walked closer to and disclosed more information to a stranger than participants in unattractive avatars. In the second study, I found that participants in taller avatars negotiated more aggressively in a bargaining task than participants in shorter avatars.”

The potential of how avatars impact social interaction spans further. Within multiplayer gaming environments, for instance, individuals often form alliances and rivalries based on the perceived traits of their avatars. 

Moreover, the bounds of the Proteus Effect extend its influence into realms beyond gaming, encompassing virtual environments utilized for therapeutic, educational, and professional purposes. In therapeutic settings, for example, individuals may adopt avatars symbolizing resilience or empowerment, leading to the exploration and resolution of psychological issues. Similarly, within educational contexts, students embodying avatars representing scholarly attributes may demonstrate heightened engagement and academic performance.

The Proteus Effect illuminates the remarkable malleability of human behavior within digital environments. It also raises ethical considerations regarding the potential for manipulation and deception.

As individuals increasingly invest time and emotional energy in digital interactions, the line between virtual and real-world identities becomes blurred. An unfortunate result of the never-ending pursuit of online social validation is the possibility of individuals becoming obsessed with achieving an impossibly perfect self.

Ultimately, the Proteus Effect serves as a compelling explanation for the transformative power of digital avatars on human behavior and identity. From shaping self-perception to influencing social dynamics and professional performance, virtual representations continue to profoundly influence individuals as they navigate virtual landscapes.

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About the Contributor
Ryan Sarapa
Ryan Sarapa, Staff Writer
Ryan Sarapa is a junior at North Allegheny Senior High. He enjoys listening to and making music. He hopes to create meaningful and engaging articles for the uproar website.

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